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Paul Bunyan in Michigan: 2023 Ultimate Guide (Statues, Festivals)

Paul Bunyan statue in Oscoda Michigan - paul Bunyan Michigan lumberjack
Paul Bunyan Statue at Furtaw Field in Oscoda, MI

Paul Bunyan, Michigan Lumberjack

Paul Bunyan is alive and well in Michigan, and chances are good that if you’ve driven through Michigan lately, you might even have seen him on the side of the road.

The legendary folklore hero who roamed the forests of Michigan and beyond has inspired countless books, movies and stories, and he has a huge (pun intended) presence in Michigan. Towering Paul Bunyan statues dot the landscape of Bay City, northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, and they’re really fun to see up close.

You can find other traces of Paul throughout the entire state of Michigan, from the famed “Paul Bunyan Trophy” of Big 10 football fame, a fun festival celebrating his impact on Michigan lumbering, and the many statues, too.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of the giant lumberjack and learn more about his place in the annals of Michigan folklore?

We put together a guide to all of the Michigan towns and roadside attractions featuring Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, his faithful companion.

Read on to find out everything you want to know about the Legend of Paul Bunyan and why this mythical fictional character holds the heart of Michigan travelers.

Scroll to the bottom for an interactive map of where to see Paul Bunyan in Michigan.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

paul bunyan in michigan

About Paul Bunyan

Paul and Babe are the stuff of legend.

The lumberjack folk hero and his gentle blue Ox, Babe, helped clear the lands for the lumbering trade in the United States with his superhuman strength. Or so the stories go.

You may remember Paul Bunyan stories from elementary school.

That’s when you first learn about the oral traditions of Tall Tales, fictional stories passed on from generation to generation, filled with truly fantastic (and unbelievable) feats of strength and exaggerations.

The tale of Paul Bunyan’s axe, Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett and others have been immortalized in American folklore. Even Walt Disney spread the word about these mythical heroes in cartoons and movies.

The exploits of Paul Bunyan have a special place in Michigan’s history, too.

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Paul Bunyan’s Michigan Roots

While the origins of Paul Bunyan may puzzle folklore experts, Oscoda Michigan, home to its own towering statue, was set as Paul’s birthplace in 2006.

It’s official, too. In 2006, the state of Michigan designated Oscoda as “the true birthplace of the legend of Paul Bunyan as first set in ink by James MacGillivray.

McGillivray, a Detroit News Tribune reporter, and later editor of the Oscoda Press, collected the fabled stories of Fabian Fournier, a French-Canadian lumberjack working the northern Michigan forests in the 1860s.

He put together in a collection of storis that proved very popular with readers. McGillivray’s stories of the larger-than-life lumberjack that he called “Paul Bunyan,” captivated audiences when they were published again in the 1910 journal, “The American Lumbermen.”

The tales of Paul’s exploits were truly incredible.

“He grew so large that he used Saginaw Bay for a bathtub, and later enlarged it to Lake Huron. Then, with the heel of his boot, he dug out Lake Michigan and Lake Superior so Babe could drink fresh water.”

-Authors Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson of Michgan Blue Magazine

Paul’s fabled feats were nothing short of miraculous, and they grew even bigger when his sidekick,” Babe the Blue Ox,” entered the picture.

“Babe the Blue Ox,” was invented for Red River Lumber, a Bemidji Minnesota lumber company ad campaign. The Paul Bunyan name was quickly cemented in history.

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Paul Bunyan’s Amazing Feats

The Paul Bunyan tales are fantastically fun, and Paul, Babe and even Paul Bunyan’s axe are legendary. Here are more of his amazing feats, according to the Bemidji MN tourist bureau.

  • Paul Bunyan was 63 axe handles tall.
  • Paul Bunyan had a frying pan that covered an area of one acre, which was used to make pancakes. The cooks greased the pan by ice skating across the griddle with sides of bacon strapped to their skates.
  • Babe was 42 axe handles wide from the tip of one horn to the tip of the other horn.
  • It took a crow a day to fly from one Babe’s horn tips to the other.
  • Babe could eat 30 bales of hay, wires and all, in a day.
  • Paul Bunyan once trained giant 2,000 pound ants. Each ant could each do the work of 50 men.
Paul Bunyan in Oscoda MI

Michigan Paul Bunyan Statues in the Lower Peninsula

Many towns throughout Michigan celebrate Paul Bunyan, both with festivals and statues.

Paul Bunyan Statue in Oscoda, Michigan

One of my favorite Paul Bunyan statues in Michigan is in Oscoda, MI. This delightful Lake Huron beach town celebrates its connection to Paul Bunyan in a couple of ways. First, a more-than-13-foot-tall statue proudly guards Furtaw Field in downtown Oscoda.

Originally made from papier-mâché, the statue was created for a 1971 appearance in the famous J.L. Hudson Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit. Paul and his axe made their way north to Oscoda, where he was recovered in fiberglass and repainted.

If you visit during the fall and winter months, keep your eyes peeled for the specially-made Stormy Kromer cap atop his head!

Where to Buy a Stormy Kromer Cap like Paul Bunyan’s

Want to keep warm like Paul did during his lumberjack days? Try this Stormy Kromer Original Kromer Cap – Winter Wool Hat with Earflap that comes in 17 colors!

Paul Bunyan Days in Oscoda MI

The town’s annual Paul Bunyan Days Festival, held every September in Furtaw Field, is a top fall event in northern Michigan. This weekend-long, fun family even has carnival rides, food and entertainment, but the highlight is the chainsaw-carving contest and the beard competition. There’s even a pie-eating contest for those with a Paul Bunyan-sized appetite.

Paul Bunyan in Ossineke Michigan
Paul Bunyan in Ossineke MI

Paul Bunyan Statue in Ossineke Michigan

Located on US-23 in Ossineke (just south of Alpena), this iconic statue of Paul Bunyan is a popular roadside attraction for travelers passing through the area.

Commonly known as the “Big Paul Bunyan” statue, the sculpture shows Paul Bunyan in a confident stance, wearing his iconic red and black checkered shirt and blue denim trousers.

His ever-loyal ox, Babe, is standing beside him, giving off the impression that they are about to start a day of labor in the woods.

Constructed in 1940’s, the 28-foot-tall Ossineke Paul Bunyan statue is a tribute to Michigan’s lumbering industry.

Best things to do in Alpena Michigan

Paul Bunyan Statue in Alpena MI

Paul Bunyan’s legend extends to Alpena, too. It’s said that “Paul Bunyan forged the Thunder Bay River by dragging his axe as he traveled through the woods. His axe carved out a path for the water to flow through, resulting in the creation of the river.”

Whether or not it’s true, you’ll find a gleaming metal statue of Paul on the campus of Alpena Community College, not far from downtown Alpena.

Named “Kaiser Paul,” since he is said to be sculpted of Kaiser-Fraser automobile parts, this massive statue stands over 35 feet. He originally stood outside a gas station in Gaylord before making his way to Alpena in 1999, where he serves as a mascot for the ACC “Lumberjack” sports teams.

paul bunyan statue in west branch mi
Photo by Trip Advisor David Kyles

Paul Bunyan Statue in West Branch MI

You can also spot a sitting Paul Bunyan in front of the Lumber Jack Food and Spirits Restaurant in West Branch, which is a popular stop for visitors heading north along I-75. West Branch’s Paul is resting on a giant log here and is protected by a low wooden fence.

paul bunyan statue at castle rock in st. Ignace Mi
Paul Bunyan statue at Castle Rock in St. Ignace MI

Find Paul Bunyan in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Paul Bunyan Statue at Castle Rock in St. Ignace

Located just four miles north of the Mackinac Bridge is Castle Rock, a 200-foot limestone rock with spectacular views of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island, and the surrounding area. A popular tourist attraction, it’s here that you’ll find a massive fiberglass Paul Bunyan, sitting alongside Babe.

You’ll find Paul Bunyan’s axe here, too, tightly grasped in his hand. Although the giant lumberjack is behind a chain-link fence, you can still grab some great pictures.

Paul Bunyan Statue in Manistique

You can spot a 15-foot tall Paul holding his axe in front of the Manistique Chamber of Commerce alongside US-2, which runs alongside the northern coast of Lake Michigan from St. Ignace.

What is the Paul Bunyan Trophy

The Paul Bunyan Trophy is a college football rivalry trophy. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the annual University of Michigan and Michigan State University football game. It was first introduced in 1953 to commemorate the fierce rivalry between the two schools, which began in 1898.

The prize is a wooden representation of the renowned folk character Paul Bunyan, who is featured with his mighty axe and standing on top of a wooden block. The winning team is allowed to keep the trophy until the following year’s competition.

Keep your eyes peeled for it next time you’re at the Big House in Ann Arbor or at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

Fun fact: Paul Bunyan left an imprint on West Michigan businesses, too. You’ll even find Paul Bunyan Communications in Grand Rapids!

Who is Bon Jeans?

Bon Jean is a French Canadian folklore hero. His fabled feats of strength have been compared to those of American folklore hero Paul Bunyan.

Did Paul Bunyan live in Michigan?

Paul Bunyan’s giant footprints are said to be all over the state of Michigan, from the time he “used Saginaw Bay as a bathtub” to the time he “dug Lake Superior” so his faithful companion, Babe the Blue Ox, could have a drink of water, according to the tall tales.

Who is John R. Bush?

John Bush is said by some to be the real-life Paul Bunyan of Traverse City. A lumberman in the 1880’s who lived in both Bay CIty and northern Michigan, his skills as a log rider have been documented by local historians in Traverse City.

Interactive Map of Paul Bunyan Statues in Michigan

Read More About Paul Bunyan

You can learn more about Paul Bunyan and babe the Blue Ox in these books:

Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, With More Than 100 Logging Camp Tales
by Michael Edmonds

Legends of Paul Bunyan
by Harold W. Felton (Author), University of Nebraska Foundation

Paul Bunyan in Michigan: Yooper Logging, Lore & Legends (American Legends)
by Jon C. Stott

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Tracey Giffin

Wednesday 8th of March 2023

My father Don Giffin played Paul bck in 76-77. My dad was 6ft9in and over 350lbs, he's the closest ever to a look alike of the oscoda statue. Matter fact I think my father to this day is only one who could legally sign his name Paul Bunyan. I have past newspaper clips with my father all dressed up.

My Michigan Beach Team

Wednesday 8th of March 2023

Hi Tracey- Thanks for reaching out! I love this - how fun! You must have some great pics...and great memories, too. Thank you soe much sharing this- I'll think of him when I pass the Paul Bunyan state at Furtaw Field in Oscoda :)!